December Activities

Wow. What a week I’ve had. I am definitely getting too old for this. I teach in two buildings. I generally love my two principals, but money and space are getting tighter and tighter, and as everyone’s job becomes more stressful communication is a weak spot.

In one of my buildings I am the only music teacher, but the other building gets everyone’s left overs: the kids get the left over day in my schedule, the left over day in the other music teacher’s schedule, as well as left overs in other special areas. The result is that there is not enough consistency from class to class or from year to year. And when it’s program time, with not enough money for subs or room in the schedule for changes, it wreaks havoc on the program and reduces the kids opportunities to be successful. Neither one of us (music teachers) has had the option of being present at each others rehearsals, so we have little means of knowing what happens from one day to the next, rehearsal wise. The kids are all ready, musically, but this has been a recipe for a logistical disaster. Which kids are going to which mics? When? Who gets the props? Are we doing the motions the same way? Hopefully we’re not totally confusing the kids. Since we both teach in different buildings, we have little opportunity for collaboration.I know what I think, and the other teacher knows what she thinks, but not being able to be there together makes things SO much more difficult. As for space, we’re giving our program on the floor instead of the stage, because the “Little Shopper’s Shop” has been scheduled to use the stage all week. Seriously?

By the way, the program is “December in Our Town.”

Thanks for letting me vent. I used to be able to handle this kind of stuff with grace, but I’ve been tied up in knots all week, feeling like no matter which way I turn to gain some time or space my hands are tied. Arrrrrrgggggghhhh.

OK…I feel better now. Here’s the December plan…..after this, unless something REALLY cool happens that I must write before I forget….I’ll see y’all in January.


Last week everyone learned MK8’s “I Have a Little Dreidle.” The 5th graders got the privilege of receiving real kazoos. Everyone else took their paper, kept their mouth a little open, held the paper tight across their lips but loose against their cheeks and chin, and sang on “ah”. For our sing-along on the 23rd I’ll have the 5th graders stand up and play their kazoos during the “kazoo break.”

Jingle Bells

This week I put a set of jingle bells in each bin, and every grade learned “We Will Jingle” from the same issue of MK8. Our jingle bells are shaped like little bracelets, so it was easy for them to just put them on their wrist and clap. My learning target was easy for (most of) the older kids, not so easy for the little ones. “Can I keep a steady beat, perform a rhythm and sing all at the same time.” I made them listen without any kind of clapping, stomping or other movement while the read along. (With the young ones I made them read through the words aloud with me before trying to follow along.) We learned the tune, and discussed why it sounds so much like “We Will Rock You” but is NOT the same tune. (Another mini copyright lesson, as well as a discussion of the word “parody”). Then we practiced the “stomp stomp clap” by itself, sang without the recording, added the jingle bells and everybody had a great time. :0)


Our composer for November and December is Tchaikovsky, so naturally we’ve been watching bits and pieces of “The Nutcracker”. I use the 1985 Covent Garden HBO production. (This particular VHS still works well, and is now for sale. $7.00 includes shipping, however it will probably not ship until after the holidays.)

The Nutcracker Ballet, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, 1985

In the past I have shown the video for the entire period, fast forwarding through portions to keep the plot moving. This year I’ve shown 15 minutes at a time at the end of each class, and it seems to work better. It keeps the students’ attention and they look forward to seeking “what comes next.”

Continuing Second grade’s study of form we’ve begun listening to “Sleigh Ride.”
Nola Bruder posted a form lesson using “Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson on the Music K-8 listserve. The form of the piece is ABACCABA. First we follow the listening map from Music Express Magazine, vol. 8 #3. December 2007. It’s very clear, and reinforces terms that I introduced in November: intro and coda. (Also, repeat marks.) The kids follow it easily. Then we each crumple one piece of paper into a ball. We grab the reins in our sleighs and keep the steady beat by bouncing up and down. We’d lean back to go up hills, forward to go down hills, to the right and left to go around corners. When we come to the C section we get out of our sleighs and have a snowball fight. (Rule: No throwing at the face…even a piece of paper can do damage if it hits someone in the eye.) When the A section returns, we get back into the sleigh and retrace our route home, hills, turns and all. This is a favorite activity and when the older kids see the “snow balls” in the bins they request it as well.. Thank you, Nola!

Some other possible activities next week will include listening to Debussy’s “Reverie” while reading Eric Carle’s “Dream Snow”.

Dream Snow by Eric Carle

And speaking of snow, I may read “Snowmen at Night” or “Snowmen at Christmas”, followed by a viewing of “The Snowman.” (Both Snowmen books for sale, but not shipped until after the holidays. $10 each or both for $18, includes shipping.)

Snowmen at Christmas

Snowmen at Night

“The Snowman” is such a beautiful dvd with such beautiful music that it is one of the few things I will not be getting rid of when I retire. It’s a great quiet activity, paired with one of these books. The entire story is told through pictures and music, much like a ballet, so it’s a good tie-in to “The Nutcracker” and program music. You can hear all of the sound effects, reactions and emotions right in the music. I call their attention to these things as we go through the video.

The last few days before school ends we have a visit from a friend of mine who happens to be a professional choreographer. Last year she worked on two songs with the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders: “Deck the Halls” from the “Glee” Christmas album, and “Walk the Dinosaur” from “Ice Age.” It’s a great way to spend the last few days before vacation: I get a lot of movement activities in, and they get a lot of energy OUT.

Finally, on the 23rd we will have our all school sing along. We do the 12 days of Christmas by assigning each class one of the days. When their turn comes, they stand up, do the motion and sing it. The littlest kids get “12 Lords a Leaping” so they only have to do it once. The older they are, the lower their day number.

To teach or review the 12 Days with the little ones I use another of Robert Sabuda’s pop up books: The 12 Days of Christmas.
(Book for sale, but won’t be shipped until after the holidays. $6.00 includes shipping.)

The 12 Days of Christmas by Robert Sabuda

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

5 Golden Rings

Our other sing along songs include: Feliz Navidad, I Have a Little Dreidle, Rudolph, Silent Night, Frosty, Jingle Bells, You’d Better Watch Out, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. The chorus will perform “Glo-glo-glorious” from MK8, “Sleigh Ride” From Jingle Bell Juke Box, and “The Night Before Christmas” from Plank Road publishing. (Now just imagine…all of this has to go on in TWO buildings.)

OK…if I think of anything else, I’ll try to post…I have some Nutcracker coloring pages, a Nutcracker crossword and Christmas Carol Ad Libs that I may leave for a sub…I have a personal day coming up after my program. There’s always Name that Carol Bingo, too…they write every Christmas song and carol they can think of onto an 8 square grid, then have to identify and mark the songs by hearing the first 5 notes.
Nothing major that I can think of right now, though. Still, the way I tick, you just never know when there will be a complete departure from the plan…..

Merry Christmas!
Happy Hanukkah!
God Bless us Every One!


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Gail
    Dec 10, 2011 @ 15:36:10

    Hi Jane – No matter if we are near retirement, a seasoned teacher, or just beginning, you are not alone in the fight to get a concert achieved when teachers are being pulled in every direction due to budgetary issues. Just keep that in the back of your head and remember why we do this.. for that brief 30 seconds at the end of the show that we can cozy up to and live in the moment. For the kids. Which I know you don’t need to be reminded of, but sometimes stress can get to the best of any of us. Good luck on all your shows, I will think you during mine.


    • Jane
      Dec 10, 2011 @ 18:07:48

      Thanks Gail! Good luck on your shows too! It always turns out alright in the end…it’s just getting there that’s a bit….uh…exciting. :0)


  2. caroline crispin
    Dec 10, 2011 @ 16:10:31


    I would so love to have the 2 snowman books as well as the 12 days pop-up. They are truly stunning. As for the vent…this is our busiest time of year and we all just want what is best for the students…we completely hear and understand you on a level that many others never can. Have a very wonderful Christmas.


  3. Jane
    Dec 10, 2011 @ 18:09:13

    Hi Caroline,
    Thanks for listening. You’re right…absolutey no one can understand like another music teacher. You have a wonderful Christmas too! I’ll ship the books as soon as I possibly can. :0)


  4. Rachel Marsh
    Dec 18, 2011 @ 20:36:56

    I am a first year teacher and just found your blog! I love it! What books/resources to you have left? I would love to order some if you are still looking to get rid of them.


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